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NDGF Department proposes another cut in deer licenses

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FORDVILLE -- The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is proposing to reduce the number of deer gun licenses it offers again this fall, and the northeast part of the state will take the brunt of the cuts.

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According to Randy Kreil, wildlife division chief for Game and Fish in Bismarck, the department is proposing to offer 59,500 rifle tags, a decline of 5,800 from last year and the lowest number since 1982.

This year's tough, lingering winter has dealt another setback to northeast deer herds, Kreil said.

"We're still getting reports of deer dying," Kreil said Wednesday night at the department's District 4 advisory board meeting in Fordville. "Winter aerial surveys showed we need to reduce license numbers."

District 4 covers Grand Forks, Nelson, Pembina and Walsh counties.

The biggest reduction is coming from the northern Red River Valley, especially hunting units 2B and 2C. The department is proposing to offer 1,500 buck tags in 2B and 1,000 buck tags in 2C, which represents reductions of 500 from last year in each of the units. Game and Fish also is planning to offer 1,500 doe tags in 2B, down 500 from last year, and 1,000 doe tags in 2C, a reduction of 1,000 from last year.

Kreil said 47 percent of the reductions will come from the valley. Long gone are the days when hunters could buy unlimited doe tags as long as surplus licenses remained.

"Last year, hunters could only get one license, and it will be the same this year," Kreil said. "More than 25,000 hunters didn't get doe licenses last year; this year, it will be 35,000.

"We're losing a lot of habitat out there as well, and that's not helping."

Despite the statewide reductions, the department actually is proposing small increases for whitetail tags in a handful of southwest North Dakota units where deer populations remain above management goals. Again this year, though, Kreil said the department is proposing no mule deer doe tags anywhere in the state and 1,150 mule deer buck tags, a reduction of 50 from last year.

Archery change

Beginning this year, Kreil said, Game and Fish will implement an electronic-only system for issuing archery licenses. Discontinuing over-the-counter sales will allow the department to get a better handle on how many hunters bought archery licenses the previous year.

Under the present system, Kreil said, the department doesn't know that number until midsummer of the next year, which complicates the process for determining how many deer gun tags to offer each fall.

Kreil said Game and Fish someday may have to cap the number of archery tags it offers if bow hunter numbers continue to increase and deer populations continue to decline. Currently, the department offers an unlimited number of archery tags.

"We don't want to change the unlimited (system), but we will watch it closely because of growing interest from the oil boom," Kreil said. "We don't think mule deer can sustain their populations if you have two or three times as many archers."

Other news

In other news from the advisory board meeting:

-- The Game and Fish Department this fall is changing its fisher trapping season from a quota system to a set number of days, yet to be determined. The quota for the inaugural season in 2011 was 10, and it filled in five days, while trappers filled last year's 15-fisher quota in about a week. Fisher numbers are high enough to justify the change, Kreil said, and a set season-length without a quota will be easier to administer. As in the previous two years, trappers will be able to take only one fisher.

-- Kreil said Game and Fish isn't likely to offer an antelope season again this year, although a decision won't be made until an early July population survey is complete. North Dakota hasn't offered an antelope season since 2009.

-- The North Dakota Legislature passed legislation this winter to clean up the requirements for issuing landowner gratis licenses. As part of the change, landowners with at least 150 acres will be eligible for licenses instead of the previous minimum of 160. The change will reduce the number of landowners with "short quarters" not qualifying for gratis licenses. Also, landowners seeking a gratis buck license will have to apply by the June 5 deadline or they will be limited to an antlerless tag.

-- Gary Rankin, a 36-year game warden for Game and Fish in Larimore, is retiring in the next couple of weeks.

"He's been just a great Game and Fish employee for a lot of years," Kreil said. "He's one of the most humble people you'd ever want to meet, and we're going to miss him."

Blake Riewer, a warden now stationed in Williston, N.D., will replace Rankin.

Game and Fish holds its public meetings twice a year in each of the state's eight advisory board districts, and Wednesday night's meeting in Fordville drew nearly 100 people.

That was more than the seven meetings elsewhere in the state combined, Kreil said.

"When you come to Fordville, this is the kind of response you get," Kreil said.

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